The Prisoner: Hammer Into Anvil

I have, over the past few months, been reacquainting myself with The Prisoner. This was a TV series, originally screened in the late 60s and repeated in the early 1990s which is when I first encountered it. I enjoyed it at the time and am now catching up yet again on DVD.

The series stars Patrick McGoohan as a spy who, after resigning for unexplained reasons, is kidnapped and transported to an isolated island community known only as The Village. This location is secured by a panoply of surveillance systems and hosts a population in which no-one uses names. All residents are assigned numbers — seemingly at random — which make it impossible to determine whether any individual is an inmate or a guard.

All of this is overseen by Number Two, a position filled by someone different each episode (which, I know, contradicts what I said in the previous paragraph — but there it is) who seeks both to extract information from the protagonist, Number Six, and possibly to recruit him into whatever mysterious organisation he represents.

Overall the series combines several genres in a manner that is surreal, often paranoid and devastatingly effective. The stand-alone episodes can be a bit variable from one to the next, but at their best they really are superb.

Which brings us to Hammer Into Anvil.

This episode opens with a sadistic Number Two (played by Patrick Cargill) driving another inmate to suicide. Number Six informs Number Two that he will answer for this and thus begins Number Six’s campaign to destroy his adversary.

What makes this episode so memorable is that rather than fighting against the system, as Number Six usually does, he instead manipulates it in order to turn the panopticon against itself. What’s more, he does this in a manner that is both playful and transparent. It is clear from the outset what Number Six is doing, but Number Two’s increasing paranoia, combined with his endless search for an underlying meaning — even when none exists — blinds him to the obvious.

This is the first episode in which Number Six demonstrates a sense of humour as well as being the first in which he is able to enact a retribution.

I still have five more episodes to watch, including the two-part finale, but Hammer Into Anvil is a definite high point of the series.

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